Presenter Spotlight: Traci Childress

Traci Childress
Executive Director, Co-Founder
Children’s Community School

Traci-Childress-Headshot

Traci Childress began studying yoga in 1996. She is co-founder and Executive Director of the Children’s Community School in West Philadelphia, where she supports the integration of mindfulness into the classroom curriculum and as a core part of her signature staff development program, Teacher Reflection and Mindful Development. Her Mindful Reflection Workshops incorporate reflective work, group listening, breath awareness practices, and principles and techniques from the field of mindfulness and yoga to support participants to connect with their inspirations, and to develop tools for strengthening listening skills and compassion. She has worked in the field of yoga, mindfulness and education as a facilitator, event planner, organizer, teacher, and curriculum developer.

Read our interview with Traci and join us at the National Kids Yoga Conference in September to hear more from her! Traci will participate in a panel discussion on “Best Practices and Sustainability in Yoga Service.

KYC: What first inspired you to start teaching yoga and mindfulness to kids?

Traci: I have been teaching since 2000. I taught English to children abroad and used a lot of yoga and mindfulness to do so. When I returned to the USA, I worked in curriculum development and event planning at Omega Institute. I was fortunate to work with so many leaders in the field for many years. When I moved to Philadelphia, I wanted to start a school for young children that integrated mindfulness into the core curriculum. I wanted to see how these practices could infuse a culture and curriculum rather than being something added to an already existing program.

KYC: Tell us a bit more about your work. What does the mindfulness program at your school look like? Who is the community of kids and teachers that you serve?

Traci: I co-founded a school for 2-5 year olds 5 years ago in Philadelphia. Mindfulness is an integral part of our core curriculum. We have mindful practices in each day, and we use our core principles in planning. I also created a program for teachers, Teacher Reflection and Mindful Development, that engages the teachers in mindfulness practices as well on a regular basis.

KYC: How would you describe the benefits of yoga for your students and your teachers?

Traci: I think mindfulness practices support young children to develop the capacity to notice their own feelings, their bodies, their breath. This in turn allows them to begin to understand the way that their bodies and minds relate and change. Once they start to understand/see this, they can begin to notice similar qualities and states in others and in their environments. This ultimately supports social/emotional learning as well as the capacity to have a sense of control over their own bodies. For teachers at CCS, mindfulness supports them to understand experientially how to really teach mindfulness to children, and it gives them tools to use in the classroom for themselves as well!

KYC: Describe one pivotal experience—the student, the teacher, or moment—that keeps you going even when your work gets challenging.

Traci: My own practice. I’ve been practicing yoga since 1998 and and meditation since about the same time. I’ve gone through many life changes and even studied yoga and meditation from varied perspectives. But through it all, the practices have always served me to be calmer and to be present. When everything else seems impossible or when I doubt that what I am working to do is worthwhile, I just come back to what I know: I trust these practices.

KYC: What brings you the deepest joy in your own yoga practice and in sharing yoga and mindfulness with kids and teachers?

Traci: My deepest joy is twofold. I love when any particular practice suddenly becomes real for someone — when behind the gesture or the breath, someone discovers a moment of humanity, a moment of faith, a moment of peace. I love watching folks build their own relationship to these practices, and then watching how that can lead them to build a community or become part of a community of others who have had similar experiences.

KYC: What pose do you think benefits your students and teachers the most?

Traci: Breath exercises — they have the most immediate influence, and therefore seem to be the most immediately beneficial. But I also think that metta meditation, or loving kindness meditation, has been equally powerful for people I’ve worked with. It has a way of breaking down our habitual insistence on separation and that is powerful.

KYC: Describe your vision for the future of kids yoga in and out of the classroom.

Traci: I’d like to see yoga and mindfulness in the classroom become embedded in a context that involves everyone: teachers, students, administrators. I’d also love to see systems of reflection integrated into yoga and mindfulness programs in schools that help to insure that teachers are reflecting on what they share and how they share it, on how their own perspectives might influence the ways they bring these practices to a community. Ultimately, I’d love to see children invited into the process of creative exploration, so that their input is shared. Once they understand, for example, the essence of mindfulness practices, I’d love for them to be invited to make up their own exercises and to share them with one another.

Traci Childress will be presenting at the first ever National Kids Yoga Conference in Washington, DC, on September 27. Click here to register for this groundbreaking event.

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